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Specialty camps for children not into sports, s'mores

BY LEANNE ITALIE, Associated Press Published: April 4, 2011
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photo - This undated photo courtesy of the Young Americans Center for Financial Education shows young participants in the
This undated photo courtesy of the Young Americans Center for Financial Education shows young participants in the "Young AmeriTown" program at Young Americans Center for Financial Education in Denver, Colo. The center also offers "Jr. Money Matters," for second and third graders, "Running Your Own Biz," for third and fourth graders and "Be Your Own Boss," for fifth and sixth graders. (AP Photo/Young Americans Center for Financial Education, Debbie Pierce)
NEW YORK — Sports, s'mores and cabin life are fine for millions of kids who troop off to summer camp every year, but what about the budding Wall Streeters, computer geeks and foodies with no interest in marshmallows on a stick, hours of sweaty soccer or buggy wilderness?

There's no need to subject reluctant campers to more traditional programs with a world of specialized experiences available, ranging from day camps to overnight stays of a week or more.

"Campers in this day and age, they know what they want," said Ian Brassert, director of Pali Overnight Adventures, which offers 16 specialty camps on 74 acres in the mountains of Southern California. "Camps are becoming more and more flexible."

Popular for Brassert are Hollywood stunt man camp, secret agent camp and something called "Girl Power Extreme" that combines paintball and zip lining with mani-pedis and spa treatments just for girls. "We're catering to what we believe is the modern camper," he said.

Organized camp in the United States marks its 150th anniversary this year, according to the American Camp Association. About 10 million young people attend summer camp every year, including book worms, little chefs, junior firefighters and magicians in training. As with all summer camps, prices vary, from low-cost day programs like the Geek Squad, to high-end residential camps that may charge several thousand dollars a week.

The American Camp Association, which accredits camps and offers resources for parents, estimates the country has 12,000 organized camps — 7,000 residential and 5,000 day programs. If traditional camp feels wrong for your child, here are some ideas on alternatives:

GEEK SQUAD CAMP

Real Best Buy Geek Squad agents donate their time for the Geek Squad Summer Academy, founded by agent Moira Hardek in her native Chicago as a way to nudge girls into technology fields.

Now offering girl-only and coed programs that run over three days, kids around the country can dig into the guts of computers, smartphones and MP3 players — and learn how to put them back together again. Hardware is donated by the Geek Squad.

There's digital music, video and photo instruction, GPS scavenger hunts and Wii tournaments. The camp also covers the basics of PCs and Macs — and Web safety, security and ethics.

About 4,000 middle and high schoolers have participated in 27 cities in 19 states. The academy takes on local partners to provide locations.

"This is about educating kids to be productive, engaged and happy members of our ever increasingly connected world," Hardek said.

HOLLYWOOD STUNT CAMP In Running Springs, Calif., near Big Bear Lake, Pali Overnight Adventures offers stunt campers sessions of one or two weeks, or a combination of theme programs spread over eight weeks.

For stunt campers, seasoned pros teach high falls and safe landings, fake hand-to-hand combat and swordplay, fight-scene choreography and state-of-the art equipment.

Pali attracts kids from 30 states and 17 countries, Brassert said. "A lot of our camps appeal to kids interested in extreme action. When you have to write what you did this summer, they can show a DVD of themselves jumping off of buildings."

Where does Brassert come up with this stuff? "We talk to our campers. That's where a lot of our ideas come from."

Pali serves campers ages 9 to 16.

WALL STREET CAMP

One kid's soccer ball is another kid's calculator. Many biz-whiz camps for kids exist.

SurvivorU: Wall Street to Main Street

For high school kids on the campus of Trinity Christian Academy in Dallas, Texas. There's a "stock and bond tribe" and a strategic game that could have campers voted off the island for financial mismanagement. They learn about the legalities of turning 18, the basics of taxes and the eighth wonder of the world — compound interest.

Kid Biz Entrepreneur

At the University of St. Francis outside Chicago in Joliet, Ill.

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